I first came across ChiaoGoo when one of my BFF’s in the industry, the talented Talitha Kuomi, freelanced for their social media. She told me great things about this knitting needle brand and took such attractive product photos, when our KAL approached, I thought it’d be fun to interview them to learn more. The ChiaoGoo website tells a bit of their story, but they were kind enough go in depth with us here. Read below to learn about the company and discover what’s eco about this popular knitting and crochet tool brand!
Q1. I love the story behind the ChiaoGoo name. Please tell us more about the family background and how they generations of working with bamboo became crafting knitting needles.
The ChiaoGoo brand of premium bamboo, wood and stainless steel knitting and crochet tools is designed and manufactured by Westing Bridge LLC, a family-owned business that was started by four brothers 15 years ago. The company is headquartered in Troy, Michigan USA with the manufacturing facility based in Hangzhou, China. Our focus is providing high quality products with great overall value and the best customer service possible!
The brothers were born and grew up in Linan, Hangzhou, China, “The Bamboo Capital of China”. Their grandfather was a bamboo craftsman who spent the majority of his life traveling from town to town with his bamboo tool kit, making household goods such as chairs, tables, mattress sheets, rice barrels, baskets and steamers. The grandfather’s son followed in his dad’s footsteps and was able to build a workshop in the early 1980’s at the birth of the primitive free market in China. The workshop produced similar household goods, but the primary product was bamboo knitting needles.
Demand for the knitting needles originated with the mother. She is an excellent knitter and knit in order to keep her family warm during the long, cold winters. She would often knit extra items and sell them to neighbors and friends to make some extra money for her family of seven (including Grandma Zheng). She was the needle “tester” and frequently asked for special needles to meet her needs. She is the inspiration for the ChiaoGoo brand name, which means “highly skillful and crafty lady”.
In the 1990’s, the family decided to expand the product line and its production capacity in order to prepare for overseas distribution. In 2005, the four brothers made a milestone decision to incorporate the manufacturing part of the business, Linan Westing Bridge LLC. At the same time, the youngest son established Westing Bridge LLC in Troy, MI for marketing and distribution outside of China.
ChiaoGoo bamboo needles are made of Moso bamboo, the largest and strongest bamboo in the world. Our craftsmanship is the result of over 100 years of experience passed down by generations of skilled craftsmen. Due to the quick, renewable nature of bamboo, we are proud that the bamboo products we offer are eco-friendly.
Our stainless steel products are made of surgical, stainless steel that is hypoallergenic and, in most cases, not reactive to sensitive skin. They have a nice smooth, satin sheen that won’t reflect any light which would make it hard to see your work. They are lightweight and strong! The needle is precisely machined resulting in perfect tips and joins. We take pride in the fact that we offer the smallest and shortest interchangeables currently on the market.
ChiaoGoo products are adored and enjoyed by knitters and crocheters worldwide, with retailers and distributors across the globe.
Q2. You have a big anniversary coming up. Congratulations!From your website, I see you started selling in the US. How has ChiaoGoo developed over the last 15 years? How big is the company? Where do you see ChiaoGoo going next?
Yes, we first started selling our ChiaoGoo bamboo knitting needles out of a home in Troy, MI to US LYS retailers only. As our product line grew, word also spread and we added distributors in the US. We have since expanded internationally by adding distributors in Canada, Finland, the UK, Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, Sweden, South Africa, Kazakhstan, Argentina and Norway. We are thankful to have wonderful relationships with all of our distributors. One of the big reasons for our successful expansion into Europe is our decision to exhibit at H+H, an international trade fair for handicraft & hobby supplies, held in Cologne, Germany every March. This year will be our 6th year exhibiting at H+H. It has turned out to be a wise investment for us.
In 2018, the growth and success of the ChiaoGoo brand allowed Westing Bridge to purchase and move to our forever home. It is a 15,000 square foot facility just two miles from the house where it all began. We employ 5 full time employees at our Troy, MI headquarters and more than 50 employees in China.
Q3. Using bamboo to create needles is a great way to go eco. Do you employ any other eco principles in the production or business side of ChiaoGoo? If so, what?
In the beginning, the decision to go with bamboo was simply one based on the natural resource available to the Zheng brothers in their hometown in China. A little research helped them discover that there was a shortage in supply of larger sized single point knitting needles. In addition, it was found that there were only two popular bamboo knitting needle brands supplying the knitting community. As a result, the Zheng brothers decided that knitting needles were it!
When making decisions on product development or packaging, we try to take into consideration the effect it will have on the environment. For example, the cardboard inserts we include with our fixed bamboo and stainless steel circulars used to have a plastic film on them so they were not recycleable. We changed this and now they are. Of course, we recycle all cardboard, paper and plastic at our headquarters.
We have also taken steps to reduce our carbon footprint. We no longer require individuals to return broken or defective product to us. A picture does the trick.
Q4. From your community page, it’s apparent that supporting the craft through supplying younger generations with knitting tools is important. How did this particular program come about?
We have always been willing to donate knitting & crochet tools to schools and organizations who approach us with a need. At first it was simply to ensure the future of the needle arts. However, now that we know the positive effects of the craft, we donate product to any organization striving to improve the quality of life of individuals. These men, women and children gain confidence and self-esteem as well as benefit from the calming effects of the craft.
Through the coordination of The Yarn Club (Virginia Beach, VA) we most recently sent some ChiaoGoo project bags and circulars to soldiers on the USS Bataan who are on extended deployment. And, through the coordination of Fiberific in Australia, we sent bamboo circulars and crochet hooks to help crafters make pouches and nests for those taking care of wildlife who were burned or injured from the horrible bushfires.
Q5. You have a great range of products from bamboo to stainless steel, for knit and crochet crafters, stitch markers, and storage solutions for all those interchangeable needles. What’s your favorite tool and why?
I pretty much gravitate to our stainless steel knitting products – the double points, the fixed Red Lace circulars or TWIST interchangeables. However, I recently taught myself to crochet and enjoyed using our metal-head, bamboo handled crochet hook. My goal was to make an amigurumi ball to get me started on making some amigurumi creatures. I just love those! Then, life happened and I only made a couple of balls. BUT, now I know I can so it’s just a matter of time before I make my first creature. What it will be, I don’t know. My niece loves sloths so maybe that will be it. The possibilities are endless!
Q6. Anything else you’d like to add?
Working conditions and compensation for our workers in China are both above the national average. Our factory has a vacuum system to control dust, fans for ventilation and air conditioning for those hot summer months. The average hourly rate is almost 2X the minimum wage required by Chinese government.
We employ several family members, two of whom are disabled, and local women who would most likely be unemployed. They are able to earn extra cash or bring in the only income for their family. We do NOT employ children.